What is pancreatitis?
The pancreas is an organ about 6 inches long, located behind the stomach and near the small intestine.
It has two major jobs in the body.
Perhaps the most important is performed by islets of Langerhans, where the pancreas makes and releases hormones such as insulin and glucagon. They work to maintain sugar levels, with the glucagon breaking down unprocessed sugars in the liver; insulin then appears at the site of the individual cells to help them absorb these sugars and convert them to energy.
The other function is performed by cells known as the pancreatic acinar cells, which make and secrete the pancreatic enzymes and bicarbonate ions that helps digest fat, protein, and carbohydrates. They include lipase for fat digestion, trypsin that works to digest protein, and amylase, which breaks down starches and converts them to sugar.
What are the types of pancreatitis?
- Acute pancreatitis - inflammation of the pancreas
- Chronic pancreatitis - inflammation of the pancreas that does not heal, or gets worse over time and can lead to permanent damage
What causes pancreatitis?
No one knows exactly what causes pancreatitis. Genetic problems can make children more likely to develop the disease, and trauma following an accident also can increase the risk that pancreatitis will occur.
What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain in abdomen or back
How is pancreatitis diagnosed?
To diagnose acute pancreatitis, doctors use different tests, including ultrasound or CT scans that look for signs of inflammation of the organ. Various lab tests that look at the health of the digestive tract also can detect pancreatitis.
How is pancreatitis treated?
The treatment for chronic pancreatitis may be the same as the treatment for acute pancreatitis, especially in the early stages. If the doctors find something abnormal in the structure of your child’s pancreas, then endoscopic treatment surgery may cure the problem.
The treatment your child undergoes will depend on how severe the pancreatitis is. If there are no other organs involved, no severe infections occurring, and the enzymes of the pancreas aren’t causing a hole, acute pancreatitis usually improves on its own. Treatment, in general, is designed to support vital bodily functions and prevent complications.
For many children, treatment will focus on the symptoms – for example, medicine might be given to help with nausea or vomiting. The doctor may also prescribe pain relievers to help make your child more comfortable. A large percentage of kids can be successfully treated this way and the pancreatitis goes away after a week or so. Sometimes your child will need to be admitted to the hospital so that the fluids they lose can be replaced intravenously.
For those with a high serum calcium or serum fat (triglycerides), this can also be treated. Your doctor may prescribe medications or recommend changes in diet to reverse these elevated levels. Physicians may prescribe pills containing pancreatic digestive enzymes to patients who experience chronic pain. It is also possible that your child will benefit from an advanced endoscopic procedure known as ERCP.
Most often, acute pancreatitis in children is managed without surgery. For children with chronic pancreatitis, the likelihood of surgery is increased. We are able to bring the latest in minimally-invasive surgical techniques to the treatment of your child’s pancreatitis. This means the incision is smaller with a shorter recovery time, less scarring, less pain and stress afterwards. The specific kind of surgery to be used for your child will be discussed with you by the surgeon.